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During this week of Holocaust Remembrance, marking the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz, how is it that I come to stand before you? I, a Jew, the rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom here in Santa Fe. I am able to stand here, in the bosom of the government of New Mexico, because my grandparents became immigrants, and left Eastern Europe before the devastation of the Nazis was visited upon our people. My grandmother, Rose Cominsky who later became Rose Greenberg, came to Ellis Island at the age of 14. Meyer & Sophie Schwab, and Charles Greenberg all likewise sailed past the Statue of Liberty, with its promise of asylum: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me.
They sought new lives, new opportunities, free of old hatreds, free of old oppressions. Beckoned by these words, ironically written by yet another Jew, Emma Lazarus, they sought what had been denied them - simple human dignity. The chance to raise their children in peace and security. They depended on the system of government established here, in the United States.
My grandparents were not great visionaries. They could not know, and no one could be demented enough to believe, that nearly one third of all the Jews in the world would be swept away, consumed in the crematoria, their ashes scattered to the four winds. By an accident of birth then, I was spared the torture and the anguish of relatives who perished. By an accident of birth I stand before you, an American, a product of public education, a Jew, a survivor by default and by heritage.
Legislators, just like you, working for the good of the people they represent, created a heritage of freedom, and through their deliberations nurtured a land ripe with opportunity. Their tasks and your tasks are composed of sacred moments of action designed to protect the rights not only of the majority, but of all the residents that make our dwellings communities.
When we think of the tragedies that humans have perpetrated on one another, shall we remember only that six million, men, women, children and babies were brutally murdered? Shall we dwell only on the terrible example of just how cruelly one human being can treat another, can so denigrate and deny the Divine image embedded in all people? No. These images alone would leave us defeated, victimized and demoralized. Let us also remember that there were those in the darkest of nights, with the world seeming to teeter at the brink of the deep pit, who risked their lives to save others.
Danish fishermen, with oars wrapped in towels to lessen the noise that could lead to detection and death, who ferried Jews to Sweden and safety 71 years ago, come to mind. So do American soldiers who liberated the death camps, and the righteous gentiles of all nations. Let their heroism never be forgotten.
Let the motivation of their heroism never be forgotten lest blind hatred and racism come to reign again, and we all are forced to live through the tortures of that time. Let that remembrance lead us to tolerate not one bit of hatred. Not one shred of intolerance. Let us follow the words of Auslander published in Harper's magazine in 1935 and build, in this way, a heaven (here on earth) knowing full well that the bricks we use for the foundation of that heaven were forged in the hottest furnaces of hell.
So let me offer up these ancient, simple words of Rabbi Eleazar found in the Jerusalem Talmud on behalf of us all: May no hatred of us rise in any heart, and no hatred of any person arise in our hearts. And let us say, Amen.